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Talk from Special Policy Report 8 of the Financial Policy Forum, forthcoming in a volume of policy studies from the Political Economy Research Institute entitled Financialization and the World Economy and published by Edward Elgar Publishers, also forthcoming in The ICFAI Journal of Derivatives Markets.
Economic Rationale for Regulating Financial Markets
HISTORY Derivatives play a useful and important role in hedging and risk management, but they also pose several dangers to the stability of financial markets and thereby the overall economy. As a testament to their usefulness, derivatives have played a role in commerce and finance for thousands of years. The first known instance of derivatives trading dates to 2000 B.C. when merchants, in what is now called Bahrain Island in the Arab Gulf, made consignment transactions for goods to be sold in India. Derivatives trading, dating back to the same era, also occurred in Mesopotamia. The trading in Mesopotamia is evidenced by many clay tablets in the cuneiform writing, and these are available at the British Museum, the Louvre and were some of the many items stolen from museums in Baghdad during the U.S invasion in 2003. A more literary reference comes some 2,350 years ago from Aristotle who discussed a case of market manipulation through the use of derivatives on olive oil press capacity in Chapter 9 of his Politics. Derivatives trading in an exchange environment and with trading rules can be traced back to Venice in the 12th Century. Forward and options contracts were traded on commodities (tulips), shipments and securities in Amsterdam after 1595. The Japanese traded futures-like contracts on warehouse receipts or rice in the 1700s. In the US, forward and futures contracts have been formally traded on the Chicago Board of Trade since 1849. As of 2003, the world's largest derivative exchange is the Eurex which is an entirely electronic trading "exchange" that is based in Frankfurt, Germany. The world’s largest contract is an option on the Kospi 200 index in Korea.
SIZE The GDP of the US is big, but this is really big * US commercial banks only, broker-dealers and others not reporting Derivatives, Outstanding Trillion US$, notional principal (as percent of U.S. GDP) $272.86 (2340%) $115.24 (988%) Total $52.80 (453%) $31.06 (266%) Exchange Traded $220.06 (1887%) $84.18* (722%) OTC Derivatives GLOBAL US
SIZE * BIS Data, end-June 2004; estimated based on twice the size of US equity market Derivatives Compared to Other Financial Instruments Trillion US$, notional principal (as percent of U.S. GDP) 2340% $272.86 Derivatives 848% $98.85 Subtotal 274% $32.00 Equity Markets* 117% $13.64 International Bank Loans 351% $40.87 Domestic Debt Securities 106% $12.34 International Debt Securities
DEFINITIONS A derivative is a transaction that is designed to create price exposure, and thereby transfer risk, by having its value determined – or derived – from the value of an underlying commodity, security, index, rate or event. Unlike stocks, bonds and bank loans, derivatives generally do not involve the transfer of a title or principle, and thus can be thought of as creating pure price exposure, by linking their value to a notional amount or principle of the underlying item. Forward contract is the obligation to buy or borrow (sell or lend) a specified quantity of a specified item at a specified price or rate at a specified time in the future. A forward contract on foreign currency might involve party A buying (and party B selling) 1,000,000 Euros for U.S. dollars at $0.8605 on December 1, 2002. A forward rate agreement on interest rates might involve party A borrowing (party B lending) $1,000,000 for three months (91 days) at a 2.85% annual rate beginning December 1, 2002. Consider the case of the farmer entering into a forward contract to sell corn upon harvest. The farmer needs to plant corn in the spring, when the spot price is $3 per bushel, in order to harvest in October when the spot price is unknown. In order to avoid the risk of a price decrease, the farmer could enter into a forward contract to sell 50,000 bushels of corn to the local grain dealer or grain elevator between October 5th and 15th, at a price of $3.15 bushel (the quality, such as No. 1 yellow corn, would also be specified). The farmer would thus be long corn in the field and short corn in the forward market; the grain dealer would be long corn in the forward market. The farmer would thereby hedge his price risk by shifting his long corn price exposure to the grain dealer through the forward contract. The grain dealer could either hold the long price exposure as a speculator or hedge the risk away by entering another forward contract – this time as a seller – with either a speculator or another hedger such as a food processor that wants to hedge its price exposure to possible future price increases.
DEFINITIONS Futures are like forwards, but they are highly standardized, publicly traded and cleared through a clearing house. The futures contracts traded on organized exchanges in the United States are so standardized that they are fungible – meaning that they are substitutable one for another. Options give the buyer or holder of the option (known as the long options position) the right to buy (sell) the underlying item at a specific price at a specific time period in the future. In the case of a call option on a stock, which is the type granted as employee stock options, the holder has the right to buy the underlying stock at a specified price – known as the strike or exercise price – at a specified time in the future. If the spot market price of the stock were to exceed the strike price during the time period in which the option could be exercised, then the holder would be able to exercise the option and buy at the lower strike price. The value of exercising the option would be the difference between the higher market price and the lower strike price. If the market price were to remain below the strike price during the period when the call option was exercisable, then the option would not be worth exercising and it would expire worthless. In the case of a put option, the option holder has the right to sell the underlying item at a specified price at a specified time in the future. Imagine a situation in which a farmer has purchased a put option on the price of corn. If the spot price of corn were to fall below the strike price during the period in which the option was exercisable, then the farmer would be able to exercise the option and sell at the higher strike price. In the way, the put option acts as a form of price insurance that guarantees a floor or minimum price. Like an insurance policy, the price paid for the option is called a premium . The value of exercising this put option would be the difference between the higher strike price and the lower market price. Whereas the holder of the option has the right to exercise the option in order to buy or sell at the more favorable strike price, the writer or seller of the option (known as the short options position) has the obligation to fulfill the contract if it is exercised by the option buyer. The writer of an option is thus exposed to potentially unlimited losses. The write of a call option is exposed to losses from the market price rising above the strike price, and the writer of a put option is exposed to losses if the price of the underlying item were to fall below that of the exercise price.
DEFINTIONS Swap contracts, in comparison to forwards, futures and options, are one of the more recent innovations in derivatives contract design. The first currency swap contract, between the World Bank and IBM, dates to August of 1981. The basic idea in a swap contract is that the counterparties agree to swap two different types of payments. Each payment is calculated by applying some interest rate, index, exchange rate, or the price of some underlying commodity or asset to a notional principal. The principal is considered notional because the swap generally does not require the transfer or exchange of principal (except for foreign exchange and some foreign currency swaps). Payments are scheduled at regular intervals throughout the tenor or lifetime of the swap. When the payments are to be made in the same currency, then only the net amount of the payments are made. For example, a “vanilla” interest rate swap is structured so that one series of payments is based on a fixed interest rate and the other series is based on a floating or variable interest rate. A foreign exchange swap is structured so that the opening payment involves buying the foreign currency at a specified exchange rate, and the closing payment involves selling the currency at a specified exchange rate. Thus it is akin to a spot transaction combined with a forward contract. A foreign currency swap is structured so that one series of payments is based on one currency’s interest rate and the other series of payments is based on another currency’s interest rate. An equity swap has one series of payments based on a long (or short) position in a stock or stock index, and the other series based on an interest rate or a different equity position.